Cast Brass Gold Dust Weight in the Form of an Asipim Chair
Asante (Ashanti), Ghana
late 19th century
height: 13.5cm, weight: 238g
This unusually large brass cast gold dust weight is in the form of a traditional Akan chief’s or noble’s chair (known an asipim chair). It is cast with an impressive array of studs. Such chairs most probably were based on heavy wood and leather Portuguese chairs of the sixteenth century.
Personal weights such as this example were used in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa. Principally, small weights were used to weigh gold dust which became the currency used to settle everyday transactions. Each party to any transaction would typically use their own weights – largely because one could trust one’s own weights in the absence of any government certified weighing system. The negotiating process not only would include the cost in gold dust of the items being transacted over but a comparison of weights, debate over the scales used, and the purity of the gold dust (gold often was adulterated with brass filings). Even transactions as rudimentary as buying vegetables in a street market necessitated this process.
Gold weights were cast in brass or bronze. They were used by the Akan who occupy a large part of West Africa including parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast and include many sub-ethnic groups such as the Baule and the Asante (Ashanti). Gold became an important commodity which gave rise to Ghana’s old colonial name of the Gold Coast. The region was known as the Gulf of Guinea, and in England, a gold coin worth twenty-one shillings became known as a guinea (Philiips, 2010).
The example here is noteworthy for its size, obvious age, and sculptural quality.
Phillips, T., African Goldweights: Miniature Sculptures from Ghana 1400-1900, Edition Hansjorg Mayer, 2010.
Robbins, W.M. & N.I. Nooter, African Art in American Collections, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
Adam Prout, London
Inventory no.: 1833